JERUSALEM (Jun. 14)
Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization leader, is doing what he does best: keeping everyone guessing.
This time, Arafat’s will-he-won’t-he drama surrounds his planned arrival in Gaza and Jericho and his dramatic, emotion-laden “return” after more than a quarter-century of enforced exile.
Arafat’s advent to the two self-governing areas will both seal and symbolize the irreversible significance of the “Gaza-Jericho First” plan as the initial step in realizing Palestinian self-government throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The issue of Arafat’s return has been on the negotiating table ever since the first secret talks between Israel and the PLO began a year-and-a-half ago in Oslo, Norway.
Despite months of speculation and discussion, it is still unclear what Arafat’s entrance will look like or exactly when it will be.
Arafat had at one point indicated he would arrive June 5, the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War. The most recent date to surface is July 20.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin confirmed Monday that he has not yet received any formal notification from the PLO leader regarding his planned date of arrival.
Other Israeli officials said they do not know whether Arafat plans to visit both of the self-governing enclaves, and if so, how he proposes to cross from one to the other.
Among the reports and rumors regarding Arafat’s arrival that were circulating here this week:
* Arafat wants to make a grand entrance together with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, King Hassan II of Morocco and King Hussein of Jordan, and is trying to coordinate such an event.
THEY WOULD ALL VISIT JERUSALEM
The story surfaced in the Haifa-based Israeli Arabic newspaper Al-Ittihad, which cited unnamed high-level PLO sources in Tunis. The paper said if Arafat succeeded in bringing the three Arab rulers with him, they would all visit Jerusalem and pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
* Arafat has already submitted to Israel a list of some 1,200 names of PLO officials now living and working in Tunis, whom he proposes to transplant to Jericho as the administrative structure of the self-government.
This would mean the transfer of the bulk of the PLO’s bureaucracy, leaving Foreign Minister Farouk Kaddoumi and Mahmoud Abbas with a small staff in Tunis, to conduct the organization’s international affairs. Under the terms of the Israel-PLO declaration of principles, the self-governing authority is barred from conducting foreign or defense policy.
* Arafat is determined to make his entree only after the World Cup soccer competition ends in the United States in mid-July.
The PLO leader reportedly wants to assure himself maximum international media attention. Some Israeli news organizations have already run interviews with Jericho residents who stated quite clearly that if the chairman arrives during a Brazil-Argentina match, he will find the streets of the autonomous town entirely empty.
* Arafat will make his final arrival plans only after he is certain the self-governing authority has enough cash to pay its immediate bills.
The PLO leader publicly stated this demand at a meeting in Paris last weekend with countries that have promised aid to the Palestinian authority.
Arafat’s aides came away from that conference with a guarantee that the countries would soon make available some $42 million.
Saudi Arabia reportedly has already transferred $10 million to the self-governing authority, its first contribution to the PLO since Arafat sided with Iraq during the Persian Gulf War.
While Arafat has yet to make an entrance, top PLO official Nabil Sha’ath arrived in Gaza on Tuesday, apparently set to take up residence in the autonomous region.
On the Israeli side, meanwhile, security measures designed to guard Arafat have moved into high gear.
According to reports here, 10,000 Israeli policemen will be deployed to protect Arafat.
In addition, the Shin Bet secret service will be working to protect the man who for years was its No. 1 enemy.
RIGHT WING VOWS MASS DEMONSTRATIONS
While Israeli security forces prepare to protect the PLO leader, right-wing parties and extraparliamentary groups have vowed massive demonstrations — in Jerusalem and in Jericho — to greet his arrival.
In the heart of Jerusalem, a coalition of right-wing groups opposed to the Israeli-PLO accord has established a tent encampment intended to draw settlers from all over the territories. Some extremists have even called for Arafat’s assassination.
Last week, former Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren issued a halachic ruling regarding the death of the PLO leader. “Every means possible must be used to prevent the master murderer from stepping upon the soil of the sacred Land of Israel,” Goren wrote. “He must be prevented from sullying Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”
To support his ruling, Goren cited remarks Arafat made during a recent speech at a Johannesburg mosque calling for a jihad, or holy war, to regain Jerusalem.
That speech, whether it revealed Arafat’s true intentions or was designed to shore up support among Palestinian hard-liners, had a clear, immediate and negative impact on Israeli public opinion.
The adverse Israeli reaction apparently made an impact on Arafat, who sent three letters to Rabin last week.
Rabin’s office would not publicly disclose the contents of the letters, but media reports here suggested the letters were intended to repair the damage caused by the Johannesburg speech.
Arafat also reportedly reaffirmed, as Rabin had demanded, that he is committed to the peace process. He also reportedly suggested that Jerusalem be kept off the agenda of the talks for the time being.